Liverpool finds its soul you're the only one who has
come to the
`God save the Pope! Ah, God save the Pope!' screamed the landlady of a dingy pub near Liverpool's Chinatown.
`Don't you mean "God bless the Pope"?' one of the customers asked, reasonably enough.
`No, I mean "God save the Pope",' she replied irascibly and lapsed into silence once more.
After the recent assassination attempt on John Paul II, I think I saw what she meant.
Outside in the Liverpool dusk, all seemed peaceful. Chinamen could be heard playing mah Jong on kitchen tables with many clickings, and from Paddy's Wigwam, as everyone calls the Catholic cathedral, came the mournful sounds of an amplified religious pop group. All was in readiness for the Pope's visit on the morrow. I stroll- ed down to the Mission for Seamen at Pier Head, running the gamut of drunk teenagers kicking litter around, and found that until last April most of the visiting seamen had been Argentinians. Musing on all these signs and wonders, I retired to my ► bed at the YMCA.
Next morning the sun was shining and all Liverpool seemed in a holiday mood. Crowds were making their way towards the two cathedrals, and along Hope Street the banners of a hundred primary schools brightened my way. I was reminded strong- ly of last year's Royal Wedding, except that for Liverpool's Day of Happiness, fewer hooligans seemed to be present. It was as if all the kindest and best people had been chosen to welcome the Pope. Although I am not a Roman Catholic I am a great ad- mirer of the present Pope, and it seemed as if I was not the only one. Thousands were present, shepherded along by yellow-hatted stewards from Wigan.
'There's a strong Roman Catholic streak in Wigan,' I was told. 'They take Liver- pool's overspill now, so many of us here are coming home. All us stewards nave been given yellow berets, but I'm not putting mine on for love or money.'
The council estates behind the wigwam were decorated in festoons of yellow and white paper, hand-made in Christmas decoration style, and very beautiful. I stood in the centre courtyard of a circular block of 1930s tenements, transformed for the oc- casion into a fairyland of colour. Everyone on this large estate seemed to be a Catholic.
A little street of council terraces, Newton Way, resembled a rococo yellow and white wedding cake, and you could hardly see the houses for the decorations. Families with packed lunches sat on the grassy slope below the wigwam, and I walked among them gathering views about the Pope. 'It's a triumphant occasion — the best thing that could have happened to Liver- pool.'
'I'm from Liberia, and my husband's a seaman out in the Persian Gulf,' a big African woman, tattooed and cicatriced, told me. 'I want the Pope to pray for my family.'
I didn't see how he could know about her family, but if he prayed for everyone, they no doubt would be included.
An elderly lady in a headscarf, with a grandson holding her hand, told me that she was a Liverpudlian of Indian descent. She looked like a very spiritual Indian Irishwoman.
'A sailor in my family saw Our Lady,' she told me. 'He was on a boat in stormy weather, sure to sink, and then Our Lady of Valenchami appeared, and everyone got rescued. That was known as the Miracle of Negapat am. '
Further on, I met two cheerful Indian nuns from Mother Teresa's order, and they too spoke well of the Pope. I moved on to Toxteth and Upper Parliament Street, scene of last year's riots, and also part of the papal 'route from Speke airport to the Anglican cathedral. Outside the Nigerian Club, Nigerians sat on chairs in a row in the middle of the pavement, all holding yellow and white flags in the papal colours.
Youths, mostly of West Indian descent, use the ravine cemetery below the Anglican cathedral as a playground, tumbling in and out of the caves and lurking among the tombstones. A young man whose name at first was Roger, but who later asked to be called Ras Juaminu, seemed to treat His Holiness rather lightly.
`My girlfriend wants to marry the Pope,' he declared, 'but he's married already, as he wears a ring.'
This wasn't much of an opinion, and as if sensing as much, Ras Roger gave a shout and three coloured boys ran out of the undergrowth, all in their early teens. All thought the Pope was a 'great man'.
One of them, Fred 'Locks', stated, in an official tone, that 'We are all black youth, but want you to know that we are not pre- judiced against the Pope.'
`He's a saint!' announced the last one, adjusting her curlers. I agreed with all these remarks, but found them lacking in con- troversy. In Catharine Street, just off Up- per Parliament Street, in the heart of last year's riot area, I noticed two shifty- looking clergymen, and approached them, notebook in hand.
`We are against the Pope!' one of them said. 'I am Pastor Jack Reece of the Twen- tieth Century Reformation Movement from Scotland, and this is Mr Castle of the
British Council of Protestant Christian Churches, whose head is Ian Paisley. were not quite sure what to do, as we're on 4, reconnaissance, but it will be a peaceful demonstration. Of all the reporters in town, right place at the right time.'
Memorising the spot, I made my way to the Anglican cathedral, the Pope s first stop, where my attempts to get inside resulted in a questioning from the Spec Branch. After a chat with one of the Pew ladies of the choir, I hurried back to the Protestant enclave. A crowd of Orangemen and women had appeared and while I was talking to them, two lines of policemen formed across the road, preventing the Chapel Militant from reaching the Pope. 'Look at that! And they say it's a free country! We can't make our voices heard' and all those Pakis out there are waving at the Pope. We've gone Fascist already!' one of the evangelicals cried. 'They won't let us, wave banners, and our own police are lined against us.' 'Pakis', in British working class parlance' usually means 'West Indians'. Along the main route, coloured and white Toxteth were united in admiration of the Pope. The poor Orangemen, Presbyterians and Barr tists were seething with rage, and a Man with a deceptive resemblance to a scholarly' humorous old colonel began to talk excited' ly of the Number of the Beast, 666, which,. was also the Pope's number, apparentIY. was shown a violently anti-papist COotie: and a crowd of scrawny young ladies struck up the Orange anthem. Soon everyone Was singing 'The Sash My Father Wore'. Some of the Orange crowd looked rather menacing, such as a young man with1 placard stating 'The Devil is a Liar', but most of them looked simple and sincere 111 their limited way. With their red, raw faces and small blinking eyes, they were not a very good advertisement for their faith. Nevertheless, they have a case. I welcome the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church, not the leader of a Comprehensive World Ecumenical Prayer Centre. 'It's not pastoral, but political — a Papist recruiting drive!' a young man in suit explained to me. 'The Pope is the Anti" Christ, the Son of Perdition. But whY ask me, when Ian Paisley's just around the cot. ner?' Surely not. Yes, there he was, sur' rounded by bodyguards, in the back of an olive-green car outside my favourite Liver- pool pub, the 'Peter Kavanagh'. There was no mistaking that bull neck and gritillY genial expression. 'Excuse me, Reverend Paisley, but w°-old you mind saying a few words for the readers of the Spectator?' I asked him. `No! I won't talk to the press. I'm Irak- ing no statement.' 'I see. Do you hope to see the Pope?' Paisley began to laugh, his face turning red with amusement. 'You reporters! I said I was making no statements.'
`His very presence here is a rebuke to the Pope,' one of his friends told me.
I left Paisley and his bodyguards drinking beer from tins, and observed a column of Policemen, two deep, advancing on the Orangemen,
`Would you believe it! All those police just for us few Protestants,' someone ex- claimed in wonder.
Four Catholics tried to present Paisley with a papal flag, but were hurried away by the Police. A roar announced the Pope's ar- rival., and Paisley and his people reached towards the foe. Trapped behind Orange lines, my position was not enviable. 'Antichrist! Anitchrist!' the colonel roared, but the Pope swept by, dressed in white, smiling and suspecting nothing, high in the glass dome of his Popemobile. The Police had kept the protest out of sight, camouflaged by flag-waving Pope-lovers outside. Paisley turned his back on the P°Pe in a grand gesture that fell rather flat. They said it couldn't happen here!' a Protestant cried out at the sight of Pope John Paul II. Just when I expected to be crushed to death in a surge towards the Pope, repelled 2Y Police from every county in Britain, the Protestants turned round and began walk- lug rapidly away. Where are you going?' I asked a fat, waddling woman.
'Back to our churches, of course,
for deliverance,' she replied. to pray
who only casualty was an elderly lady
wuo fell into the basement of a house ruin- ed in the riots, and she was taken safely to hospital.
Eager to see His Holiness from among a the sympathetic crowd, I hurried towards tne Anglican cathedral, and was rewarded with a good view of the procession, with flags waving all around me. Then I persuad- ed a householder, Mrs Housley, to let me into her council flat so I could look at the 2Pe from her balcony. Her flat overlook- A+ the wigwam's 'pia7'a', a sealed-off area where the Pope was going to bless the 'nur ,1-'3wd.s. My motive was not religious fer- _, but curiosity about the Liverpool Catholics who seemed to love the Pope so dearly.
Have a bevvy and a butty, lad!' I was greeted by one of Mrs Housley's many guests, and soon I was munching sand- wiches and drinking tea with the best of 'tem. The flat's cast-iron balcony was in great demand, and neighbours popped in ,and out, tea was brewed continually, and babies crawled around the floor.
been working since seven this morn- th° to a Pub,' my hostess told me. 'I do hope e Pole does come out, as my 87-year-old with is out there on the balcony waiting, her big pair of binoculars. You get a hod view of the wigwam from here, and of ifioer the pt, ,where all the tramps are put up night No, they don't bother me. I living here, as you can see everything 2t'S going on. Last night some of the i'',.eighbours were making decorations at two %the morning and the flats look lovely.' Pleasant inside, the public halls and stair-
ways of the flats were crumbling into disrepair. Nevertheless, all was jollity among the Pope-watchers, and when the language grew too bawdy, someone would say, 'God forgive me, Pope!' A stout man who worked a concrete mix- er for a living pretended to frisk me for weapons, but everyone assured me he was only joking. At last the Pope emerged, now clad in scarlet except for a white cap which soon blew away. The balcony grew so crowded I was afraid it would break off and hurtle to the street below. As soon as the Pope left, the flat was empty, the Housley household hot in pursuit.
Outside, a Sister of Mercy, a girl of 20, told me that the Pope was crying as he ad- dressed the young people, and ran to see the Pope leaving for Archbishop Worlock's house. The Pope had gone, but it had been Liverpool's finest hour. At the Irish centre, an attractive Georgian building, the Tricolour flew from the rooftop, the bars were crowded, and in the ballroom, a young man played the accordion, while others danced. In the streets, Rastafarians flirted with blushing girl stewards from Wigan. Liverpool had found its soul again.